Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod, better known by her stage name “Mata Hari”, was a Dutch exotic dancer and high priced escort/courtesan who was convicted of being a spy for Germany in World War I and executed by firing squad in France in 1917.
Although it is pretty clear she was not much of a spy, there is something about the idea of an exotic dancer working as a lethal double agent using her powers of seduction to extract military secrets. This idea is the key reason the story of her arrest made global news and the reason her name still echoes around in conversations on the topic of spies and spying. Her life inspred many fims, including the film German film Mata Hari (1927) and soon thereafter (1931)a Hollywood version starring Greata Garbo. There was also remakes in 1964 and 1985, and even stage musicals of her story.
Something these treatments all get wrong is that all indications are that she really didn’t do any serious spyiing. There are indications that she was able to talk the Germans into giving her money on the promise that info would come, and there was a sting operation against her that indicated she might have provided some info back, but overall it was a very tenuous case, with many believing she was being set up because the French needed more people to blame for shortcomings in war. There were also suspicions that some of the men she was involved with in the French government were hoping she would go away so their name would not be drug through the muck in scandal for being associated with her.
There is so much more to know about this story, she is a fascinating woman and there is plenty of drama here. For more on Mata Hari see: Mata Hari: The Controversial Life and Legacy of World War I’s Most Famous Spy